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Woody's Ramblings
Saturday, March 5, 2005

By Woody Peele

CLS a fitting testament to rise of program


When the first pitches were thrown out at East Carolina’s new Clark-LeClair Stadium Friday morning, every fan was on his feet and the emotion was at a peak.

Not only was it the first game in the new baseball stadium, it was a time to recognize former baseball coach Keith LeClair, sidelined by Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS).

Randy Mazey, who now guides the Diamond Bucs, said, “It was very emotional for a lot of people.”

Throwing out the first pitches of the day were LeClair’s young children, daughter Audrey and son J.T.

LeClair, in a motorized wheel chair, was just behind home plate with wife Lynn, accepting “Pirate gold” roses and a plaque commemorating the occasion.

He and his family — comfortable in the field’s new press box — later watched the Pirates gain a 2-1 victory over Michigan in the first game of the three-day Keith LeClair Classic.

For myself, I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. In more than 40 years of covering and watching the Pirates on the baseball field, I had suffered through icy days when the games went on and on and one, and through hot days when there was no breeze to give us relief in the old press box.

So it was a great pleasure to walk into the new press box, find a comfortable chair and watch the game, not worrying about the chill outside. (Sorry, fans!)

While the dream of a new stadium didn’t start with LeClair, it was his vision that finally got it going, leading to Friday’s opening. He had to feel a great high in experiencing its fruition.

Joining the former coach in the stadium name is the Bill Clark family, which was a major financial contributor to the project. The Clark family has been involved with ECU baseball in many ways, including son Heath Clark, a former player for the program (1991-94).

Of course, there are many others who contributed to the fulfillment of this dream, both with their backing and their work on the field.

When I first saw a model of the proposed stadium, I’ll admit that I wasn’t very impressed. But as I watched the construction move along, it began to be more impressive every time I passed.

Over the years, I’ve visited a number of collegiate stadiums, but none of them impress me like this one. That includes those just up the road in Raleigh and Chapel Hill.

Without a doubt, it is the finest college baseball facility in North Carolina, and probably in several adjoining states, too.
There are a number of professional fields in the state, too, but few of them will stand up against Clark-LeClair.

Mazey, who picked up the reins when LeClair was forced to step down, called it the “culmination of a lot of dreams.”

“There’s not a person here today who hasn’t had a hand in this, building the atmosphere and my hat’s off to them.” Mazey said. “It gives you a special feeling.
“I really believe this is the next step in East Carolina baseball and I’m as excited as I can be.”

Mazey also noted that the new stadium will be a great help in recruiting. He called last fall’s recruiting class the best yet, and the stadium had to be a factor in that.

George Whitfield, who served under LeClair as an assistant coach, summed it up as “awesome.” He related that former Major League manager Clyde King visited the field on Thursday and said, “There’s nothing like it in North Carolina.”

Amen to that.

Former coach Gary Overton, who served before LeClair, and whose connections with the Pirates go back to his own collegiate days, said he was excited for all ECU fans, past, present and future.

“What it means to this program is what we’ve all wanted to see for many years,” Overton said. “It’s a fabulous structure and it’s named after two great men. It means a lot for ECU and the entire program.”

There is still some work to be done before the structure is totally completed. The areas under the stadium are not fully ready, but that will come in the weeks ahead.

A dedication ceremony is planned for April 8 when Southern Miss comes to town.

There’s one thing that I would like to see at the new stadium — some honors for the coaches who have brought the Pirates to this level.

I think individual plaques should be installed on the walls near the main gates, commemorating those gentlemen. They could have a bas-relief of their heads, their tenures, record, conference titles and NCAA competition.

In case you don’t know them, here’s a brief look at Mazey's predecessors:

  • Jim Mallory (1954-62, 73), 161-60, NAIA National Championship (ECU’s only national team title in any sport).

  • Earl Smith (1963-72), 185-103, four Southern Conference titles, four NCAA appearances.

  • George Williams (1974-76), 56-32, one Southern Conference title, one NCAA appearance.

  • Monte Little (1977-79), 82-49, one Southern Conference title (ECU’s only year in the league before going independent), one NCAA appearance.

  • Hal Baird (1980-84), 145-66-1, one ECAC title, three NCAA appearances.

  • Gary Overton (1985-97), 427-237-1, one ECAC title, 2 CAA titles, five NCAA appearances.

  • Keith LeClair (1998-2002), 212-93-1, 2 CAA titles, one C-USA title, four NCAA appearances.

While the stadium honors LeClair, the others deserve a niche for their many contributions.


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02/23/2007 02:43:47 PM

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